Perhaps you have heard whispers of it in passing, or maybe you don’t know anything about the new Firefox open source mobile platform. That’s right. There’s a new kid on the block, so to speak. The Mozilla project was actually created in 1998, with the release of the Netscape browser suite source code.
The idea was to push the idea of the open web, and open source. For those not familiar with the term, open source is software that is “open” to the public, and possibly regulated, but not controlled by any for-profit company. The concept is that this allows thousands of programmers access to what otherwise would be closely guarded corporate secrets, thereby releasing unprecedented innovation in the browser market.
The project spread beyond expectations, first creating Mozilla 1.0, the first major browser from the open community. At the time, over 90% of the market used Internet Explorer for browsing, simply because they didn’t know there were alternatives.
In 2003, the non-profit Mozilla Foundation was created, funded by individual donors and a variety of companies. The role of the foundation was to manage the project and promote openness, innovation and opportunity on the web over competition and profit.
Firefox 1.0 was released in 2004, and in less than a year had been downloaded over 100 million times. New versions have continued to come out, and the popularity has grown. On the tenth anniversary of Mozilla in 2008, Firefox reached a 20% worldwide market share, renewing competition, accelerating innovation and improved Internet for everyone.
Now Mozilla is attempting to do the same thing in the mobile field market. Firefox OS is planned as a community-based platform for mobile devices. It will utilize open standards and approaches such as making HTML5 applications that are just as robust as native apps on iOS and Android.
Though Android is supposed to be an open-source platform, it is not completely so. Windows Phone and iOS are nowhere close. Mozilla has repeatedly said the Firefox OS (nicknamed Boot to Gecko, or B2G) was construed not so B2G would succeed, but the web would. That is, the base motivation is to show that the standards-based open Web, cannot only openly compete with the two (or three) major platforms, but force the same type of innovation the Firefox browser has brought to the web.
Mozilla hopes to bring the browser back to the forefront of a mobile experience, rather than playing second fiddle to the native apps on the phones. The Firefox OS is designed to run apps from web technologies such as HTML5, allowing those apps to run on any handset (or any other device) with a browser, regardless of platform.
For developers this is a boon, because it removes the need to rewrite code for cross-platform operations. For users, it’s great because the apps can be used on whatever device is handy.
Mozilla has been working to introduce the Firefox platform as a cheap under £80 smartphone option in countries with little exposure to smartphones, such as Latin America and Eastern Europe. The idea is that it is easier to introduce a new platform and show its effectiveness in a market where the other platforms have not already secured a foothold.
So can the idea succeed? History and the numbers certainly support it. There are about 100,000 iOS developers and 400,000 Android developers compared to ten million HTML5 developers (roughly). The Firefox browser has just reached version 25, and the innovation charged by this open community has carried over to all the competitors.
Certainly there is still work to be done, but many people’s confidence lies in the advances web technologies have already made in the last 20 years. Things like including interactive animations and imbedding video in a webpage without a plug-in, as you can with HTML5 and AJAX, were less than a concept back in the 1990’s and early 2000’s.
Mozilla is taking on a big challenge, and some mighty big opponents with deep pockets, but as the Linux-system demonstrates, open-source will always have a devout following, and Mozilla is on the path to opening up the entire mobile market.